As the new Reviews Editor for the Southern Indiana Review, I decided to start a column where I talk about recent books. The column is called “Myself and Strangers” after a line from Gertrude Stein, and I just posted my first review. It’s a glance back at debuts from 2017 and it covers books by Nicole Sealey, Sheila McMullin, and Layli Long Soldier. I use the term “feminist debut power trio” and you should read the column here at the SIR site.
Over the last year I’ve had the pleasure of reading poetry in great company. I thought I’d dust off a couple photos and write some tiny reflections before these events seem too long gone…
Last July, I had an other-worldly experience at the Life Is Boring series run by the fine folks at Ursus Americanus Press. It was hot, it was late at night, and yet everyone glowed with a sort of freshness.
Then in January 2017, I read as part of the Lyrical Brew series at the Vanderbilt Barnes and Noble. Meg Wade, Freya Sachs and I read in rounds! This seems uniquely Nashville in the best way.
On October 26th at 7pm, I’ll be reading my poetry at Poet’s Corner, a series run by the Scarritt Bennett Center as part of their “Soul Work.” The brilliant Freya Sachs will be reading as well. “Soul Work serves as a conscious of the conditions we are living and working inside of as activists, artists, healers, and organizers in our communities and movements.” Join us!
This semester, I am teaching WGS2225, Women in Popular Culture, or “Intersectional Feminism and Pop Culture.” The students have kept a lively blog all semester, which is now coming to a close. The blog itself is private (the class made this decision), but I wanted to share a post I published there last night. Above is the image we’ve used for our blog.
Some kaleidoscopic thoughts at the end of the semester…
I want to begin this post with some reflections on the name that this community chose for our blog, “Hot Sauce Kaleidoscope.” The name comes from the second week of the semester when we were interrogating the standing models of feminist history. The class rigorously decided that “waves” was not an appropriate way to describe feminist thought—either at present or historically—because it erases people outside the hegemonic feminist mission of any given moment, enforces division, and insists on a progress model. I challenged you to come up with new models for feminist history in small groups, and there were some exciting suggestions: spider webs, magnetic poles, and concentric circles overlapping into infinity. Your models suggested flexibility, durability, community, and an organic or changing ethos. These models made us gleeful.
The blog itself is named after a passage in Linda Nicholson’s 2010 essay “Feminism in ‘Waves’: Useful Metaphor or Not?” that I assigned that second week. Nicholson proposes the kaleidoscope model over the wave model, and when we discussed our “type” of intersectional feminism somewhere around week four or five, this idea stuck with the class and was unanimously voted in as part of the name for our blog. Nicholson explains the kaleidoscope model like this:
At any given moment in time, the view in a kaleidoscope is complex, showing distinct colors and patterns. With a turn of the kaleidoscope, some of these colors and patterns become more pronounced, others less so, and new patterns and colors have emerged. This kind of metaphor suggests a better way to think about the changes that have marked the history of gender activism in the United States than does one that likens such changes to an ocean’s ebbs and swells. (FTR 49)
The other part of the blog’s name comes from Beyoncé’s insistence in “Formation” that she has “hot sauce in [her] bag/ swag.” The hot sauce here reminds us of racial and ethnic difference among and within our feminism—long live the African American Southern United States tradition of smothering food with hot sauce—but also it reminds us to fight back. The name of the bat that Beyoncé uses to bust down the patriarchy in Lemonade’s “Hold Up” is called “HOT SAUCE” after all.
From the beginning, you, as a class, insisted that your intersectional feminism was nuanced and militant. Your feminism is colorful and beautiful, but not quiet. You’ve written hundreds of posts on this blog to that effect. Now my friends, as we near the end of the time we have together, I asked you to read about “outlaw emotions,” “feminist killjoys,” and other fluid epistemological models of feminist thought and contribution. I was struck today in class at how you seemed to take it as a given that emotions are a legitimate starting point for knowledge production, for change, or even for revolution. Perhaps intersectional feminism for many of you is an emotional experience as well as a rational one. I find this inspiring.
In our reading for Wednesday, Jasbir Puar will challenge intersectionality as a model for feminist thought. I thought twice about troubling the course’s central model for thought on the last day, but ultimately decided that we are ready for it. I decided that, in fact, you are doing this work already. For Puar, intersectionality as a model for feminism runs the risk of calibrating differences from a norm, or center, and by doing so possibly even “re-securing the centrality of the subject positioning of white women” (FTR 596). In other words, she worries that intersectionality as a model for thought makes us consider what we are different from. Puar wants to use the model of intersectionality but she wants to rethink its implicit and default subject position, which brings her to assemblage theory. We’ll discuss this more Wednesday, but for now I want to say that you are already doing this work. Puar suggests that helpful questions for analysis of problems that lead to their solutions—by “problems” here, I mean patriarchy, racism, homophobia—are not about who is at fault or what the crime might be, but rather we should ask, “…what are the affective conditions necessary for the event-space to unfold?” (FTR 604). These conditions come from systems of oppression, histories of struggle, and moments of release. We have been studying these sets of conditions through our conversations about pop culture every Monday and Wednesday. What world does Beyoncé’s Lemonade make possible? What feeling does Tangerine release? How does Maura in Transparent enable emotions that move or shape the world? How can we see Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign—even in its failure—as creating conditions of another possible world?
May you each always practice kaleidoscopic feminism with hot sauce in your bag. I know I will.
The Et Al series presents a poetry reading with Keegan Cook Finberg, Douglas Piccinnini, and Chris Hosea at 8pm at Sauvage Gallery (1114b 3rd Ave. S., Nashville TN 37210) on Saturday, May 7th. The event is part of May Art Crawl in Wedgewood/Houston. Daniel Holland‘s work will be presented and for sale at Sauvage.
A bit about the poets:
Chris Hosea is the author of Put Your Hands In (LSU Press, 2014), selected by John Ashbery for the 2013 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets. In his judge’s citation, Ashbery compares Hosea’s poetry to a notorious Marcel Duchamp painting, and finds that Put Your Hands In “somehow subsumes derision and erotic energy and comes out on top,” adding “One feels plunged in a wave of happening that is about to crest.” Hosea’s second book of poems, Double Zero just came out from Prelude Editions in 2016.
Douglas Piccinnini was born in New York City in 1982. He has been awarded residencies by The Vermont Studio Center, Art Farm in Marquette, NE and, The Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia. In 2014, he was selected by Dorothea Lasky as a winner of the Summer Literary Seminars for Poetry. Piccinnini is the author of several chapbooks including Soft and, Flag—an encoded chromaglyph. He is the author of Story Book: a novella, and most recently Blood Oboe (Omnidawn Publishing, 2015).
Keegan Cook Finberg is a Lecturer in English at Vanderbilt University. You can find her poems in Rove, Two Serious Ladies, and Bone Bouquet. Her critical writing on poetry appears or is forthcoming in Jacket2, Textual Practice, Canada and Beyond, The Rumpus, and The Believer.